Written by Hillari DeSchane
Photos Provided by Opera Modesto
‘If you build it, they will come’ is a popular idea borrowed from the movie Field of Dreams. Opera Modesto has turned that challenge into, ‘If you stage it, they will read it.’
On January 11 and 12, 2020, Opera Modesto debuts its first ‘Story Into Song Literacy Initiative’ production, Jonathan Dove’s Mansfield Park,based on Jane Austen’s novel of the same name. The opera is the centerpiece of a weekend JaneAustenCon featuring lectures and classes on the works of Jane Austen and the culture of Regency England.
The connection between opera and literacy may not be obvious. But the company founded thirty six years ago by Modesto native Buck Townsend has always seen education as a key part of its mission. In 2018 Opera Modesto honored its roots by inaugurating its Summer Opera Institute [SOI] for teens. The course exposes students to intensive study and training under nationally known experts in foreign languages, literature, voice, music, stagecraft, public speaking, and more. “Almost none of the students will go on to become opera singers,” acknowledges Stevens. “But each one will take that experience with them.” This is no ivory tower endeavor: SOI participants are drawn from all backgrounds, some students excelling despite battling homelessness and serious physical and emotional challenges.
Local government and non-profit agencies battling low literacy and achievement rates have been quick to join in the effort. The Stanislaus County Library, Stanislaus County Schools, Modesto City Schools and Learning Quest are just a few of the early visionaries. “Opera Modesto is engaged in extensive, unexpected community engagement that…promotes our shared interest in the health of the community,” Stevens says.
ModestoJaneCon featuring Opera Modesto’s Mansfield Park:
“The connection between music education and improved achievement in other subjects is well documented,” says Hillari DeSchane, an Opera Modesto Board member and drama critic. With California’s Central Valley impacted by perennially low literacy levels, “we’re just offering one more tool to the folks who have been working in the trenches for years. Stanislaus County has so many people who are quietly working for the good of the community. Opera Modesto is proud to partner with them in the Story Into Song Literacy Initiative.”
For more information: January 11-12, 2020 Visit ModestoJaneCon.com or @modestojanecon on Facebook and Instagram Tickets available at thestate.org